Sea Turtle Ecology

Snorkeling by Day, Watching by Night
by -- April 25th, 2012

 

Our ‘day’ began at 12:00 midnight in another all night-er at the three beaches. On Zoni, Rita, Wendy, Kristin, Sasha, Natalie, and Angela found the beach to be relatively uneventful, or so they thought. The group was split up so that Angela and Natalie were together. This pairing proved to be problematic, seeing as both were feeding off of each other’s paranoia and fear of the dark. In one instance, they got caught up with shining their red lights at the parking lot near shore and debating whether or not a second car was there. After reassuring each other that the beach was perfectly safe, they turned their red lights forward to get a clearer view of their surroundings but to their surprise, three unfamiliar faces were looking back. With many loud screams, they managed to get a few words out. ‘Who are you?! What are you doing here?!’. After swinging their arms around and shining their lights, they saw that it was just a family awaiting the meteor shower. Naturally, the strangers found Angela and Natalie’s display amusing and after laughing it off, they returned to patrolling the beach.

The family was not the only visitors Zoni received that night. Around 1 am, the group spotted about 10 strange figures crossing their path. Rita approached the group and spoke to them for a while. It turned out that they were coral researchers from a nearby university who were also hoping to see a leatherback. Apparently it is a common occurrence for a group of friends to meet up on weekends to look for nesting leatherbacks. Although this curiosity is great, it can present real problems for sea turtle conservation efforts. The groups generally tend to be very large and the visitors often shine bright white flashlights on the beach. If the brightness of the light does not deter the leatherback from nesting, the size of the group might do the trick. Since witnessing a leatherback nesting is a rare event, doing something that could even possibly deter them from nesting is a chance no one is willing to take. Despite Rita telling the group to cover the light with their hands to make it red, they still were very careless with shining their bright lights out to the ocean. Luckily, the empty beach did not hold their interest for long, and they left soon after they arrived. Sadly, none of the other beaches sighted leatherbacks either. But having the opportunity to watch a meteor shower was a pretty nice conciliation.

Alyssa Watt and Angela Woods posing at Tamarindo Beach.

After night two of looking for leatherbacks at our respective beaches, we collectively slept in until around 1 o’clock. After a quick lunch, we spent the day at Tamarindo beach for an afternoon of rest and snorkeling along the reef. All of us were amazed by the gorgeous fish and coral. Although we were thoroughly enjoying the scenery, our primary purpose of being there was to spot green turtles grazing in their natural feeding grounds. Rita and Scooby, the other researchers in the house, swore that Tamarindo was full of grazing sea turtles. We were all a little worried that we were not going to see any, but only after a half hour, Wendy and Jen saw the first one a ways down the beach. In a frenzy, the rest of us gathered to the spot where they were. We did not see it grazing, but we all swam behind the green turtle and got some amazing pictures. We were all very pleased to see the turtles happily swimming along, rather than in a net, like we had the last couple of days due to the objectives of our snorkeling trips. After splitting off into groups of two again, we snorkeled the reef some more, seeing even more vibrantly colored fish and anemones. A few of the other groups were lucky to spot a few more sea turtles. One group observed a green turtle feeding on sea grass. It was a great opportunity to see the concepts learned in the classroom happening before our eyes. For instance, when green turtles feed in sea grass beds, they keep the grass short, which increases nutrient supply for the entire ecosystem.

Green sea turtle swimming along 🙂

Natalie Ferguson resting on some rocks after a long afternoon of snorkeling.

Once we were all tired out from snorkeling, we sat on the beach for a bit to soak up a little more sun before coming back to the house to get ready for dinner. We all convened on the porch to eat pasta and salad, and to watch “Inside Nature’s Giants”, a film about leatherback sea turtles that Rita and Scooby suggested. We all enjoyed it, especially the segments regarding hatchlings, where a chorus of “awwww’s” was heard throughout the group. After dinner, we quickly packed up for night three at the beaches.

For the third night of beach walks, Mike, Sasha, and Alyssa accompanied by Wendy and Rita went to Resaca Beach, the most challenging to get to. After hearing mixed stories about the difficulty of the hike, we were all anxious but excited. Both Sasha and Wendy spent the first night of beach watches at Resaca, so knowing that half of us were familiar with the area was comforting. After an intense twenty minute hike down to the beach, we made it and quickly scanned the beach before making camp. Not even an hour into our watch we felt the first rain drops which were quickly followed by a downpour. Luckily all of us had rain jackets, but since the beach provided little shelter from the rain, we retreated back to the woods to wait it out. As luck would have it, the rain subsided in about twenty minutes after it started and held out for the rest of the night. We walked the beach until around 5am, but no leatherbacks were to be found. After an intense hike back up to our car, we spoke about whether we though another group had a luckier night than us. Unfortunately, after returning home and exchanging stories, we found out none of the groups saw any nesting females. Tomorrow is our last night of beach walks and although we have yet to see any leatherbacks yet, we are still hopeful!

©2016 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff